I have to admit; up until a couple of months ago when I was generously invited to do a private barrel selection of Apple Jack (apple brandy) at Tom’s Foolery Distillery, I had not given brandy much thought. I think the main reason I overlooked brandy was based on previous experiences with overly sweet, low proof, and one-dimensional pours. My perception completely changed when I tried uncut, unfiltered, 121 proof cask strength, apple brandy at Tom’s Foolery. The nose, mouthfeel, smoothness, complexity, and fruity sweetness was something I had never seen packaged into a single pour before. I was hooked! That is a big statement coming primarily from a bourbon drinker in the peak of the big bourbon boom.
As I waited for the cask strength, Tom’s Foolery single barrel selection of Apple Jack to be bottled, I searched the internet to crave my appetite for more cask strength brandy. Surely, others have figured out the divinity of cask strength brandy. Surprisingly, I only found one distillery in the States that was selling cask strength brandy. Copper & Kings American Brandy Distillery, and my lord are they doing things right. Especially for a whiskey drinker like myself.
Copper & Kings located in Louisville, Kentucky currently offers grape brandy, apple brandy, immature brandy, gin, and absinthe. However, this article will focus on their American grape brandy. Supposedly, brandy over in Europe can be tweaked and diluted in the barrel during the aging process. Copper & Kings treats their brandy like whiskey. Barrel the distillate, and let time and the oak do the work. If they do proof down, that will happen at the bottling phase, but never actually in the barrel like some other European brandies.
What makes their brandy particularly interesting to a whiskey drinker like myself is they try to use American whiskey influences in their offerings. They age their grape brandy in used Kentucky bourbon whiskey barrels from local, highly recognizable distilleries, and medium-char new American white oak barrels, for those American flavors, nose and style. Smooth and aromatic, but a little bit of a bite, like whiskey. They also do not chill-filter any of their brandies, or add oak flavor /essence (boisé in French) or caramel color, as per Kentucky bourbon.
Another interesting thing about the Copper & Kings distillery is that they don’t have a rick house in the general sense like many whiskey distilleries. They use the basement of their distillery to store their barrels. In addition, they have five sub-woofers in the basement to provide “Sonic Aging” via rock’n roll music. Supposedly, it is not the vibration of the music, but bass pulsation that assists with aging. I’m not sure if that provides any real benefit, but doctors instruct soon to be parents to sing to their unborn child in the womb. So why not sing to my brandy? Hahaha.
I had an opportunity to speak with Joe Heron, owner of Copper & Kings, and ask him questions from my naive brandy drinker perspective. I hope that many of my whiskey readers find this as informative as I did.
Q: You have various American brandy offerings. What is the difference?
C&K Immature Brandy – is C&K’s own un-aged grape brandy distillate. (Any brandy that is aged less than 2 years in oak is “Immature” according to TTB regulations). It is a small batch, non-chill filtered, and proofed down to 90 proof.
C&K American Craft Brandy – is a small batch blend of various barrels of the “DNA 1” base brandy that was sourced from other distilleries. The brandy is non-chilled filtered and proofed down to 90 proof. The brandy “DNA 1” base has aged in both used American oak bourbon barrels and new American oak barrels for roughly 2 years, since sourcing, and then blended together. 90% comes from the bourbon barrels, and 10% from the new oak barrels.
C&K Butchertown Brandy – like the American brandy mentioned above, this a small batch of various barrels of the “DNA 1” base brandy, but is only proofed down a little to open it up, coming in at 124 proof. Also different from the C&K American brandy offering is that this uses 75% used bourbon barrels, and 25% from the new oak barrels in the blend. So more of those new oak barrel notes. Powerful vanilla and caramel, honey and stone fruit. Aged in both the bourbon and new barrels for roughly 2 years, since sourcing.
Q: Please tell me more about “DNA 1”.
“DNA 1” is a blend of various pot still brandy across the country. Mostly from the West Coast, but also Michigan, Ohio, and New York to name a few. The age of the brandy ranges from 5 years to 15 years in this blend, with the majority in the region of 8 or 9 years in age. “DNA 1” has been in barrels for roughly 2 years now. There is no C&K distillate in this blend, however this year we will be releasing “DNA 1.5” with some distillate that is slightly younger. “DNA 1.5” is already blended and aging.
Q: I have heard that C&K is doing private barrel selections. Are there significant differences between brandy barrels? Are there “honey barrels” like in whiskey?
Absolutely! Surprisingly big differences. Remember we use different once -used bourbon barrels from local whiskey distilleries. Based on the bourbon that was in the barrel, the barrel char, age, etc. will change the profile of the brandy. Cellar location makes a difference, and every single barrel has its own singular personality. Some say that at least 50% of the final spirit flavor profile comes from the barrel. Tasting the differences between barrels, it becomes evident that this is true.
Q: Are the private barrel selections from the used bourbon barrels? Do these private barrel selections have the option to pick from a new oak barrel?
They are all from used bourbon barrels. New American oak barrels are scarcer in our supply. Also, we can reuse those barrels for other batches to provide that “whiskey” profile intensity.
Q: In general, some say older whiskey tastes better. Would you say that also applies to brandy? What does a 15-year-old brandy taste like?
True. Older brandy tastes outstanding. A 15 year old brandy will be more mellow, more wood, with sweet notes of vanilla and caramel. Although, our sweet spot for brandy is around 6 to 7 years, particularly taking the Kentucky climate in to account. Although one day we hope to have some 15 year old brandy to share.
I actually started out as a whiskey and Scotch drinker, but now primarily drink our own American brandy. It is that good, and that isn’t bias because I own a brandy distillery. Brandy for a whiskey drinker may often be weak in the mid-palate. Whiskey drinkers are looking for that bigger profile with a slight bite like their whiskey. That is why C&K is using those American whiskey influences, non-chilled filtered, and higher proofs to enhance the brandy.
Recommendation when you drink Copper & Kings American Brandy, especially the cask strength bottles. Add cold water (or ice) which really brings out different flavor profiles as the oils within the distillate start to bind, than when tasted neat.
Review of Copper & Kings American Brandy – Binny’s Private Barrel Selection
Nose: Freshly crushed white grapes. Pear. Grapefruit. Caramel. Vanilla.
Palate: Took me a while to figure it out, but liquid Twizzler. Hahaha. Red grape. Cherry. Nice thick mouth feel. Taste hits mostly on the back palate. Has some astringency on the back palate. Smooth for 120 proof. No burn. Thick mouthfeel.
Finish: Long! Really coats the mouth. Grape juice. Cinnamon and spice that hits the back of the throat aggressively. White grapes that stays with you for minutes afterward. Incredible!
Nose: White grape. Pear. Vanilla. Liquorice.
Palate: Dry. White grape. The vanilla and caramel are more forward on the palate than when tasted neat. Might sound strange, but pumpkin spice? Has some astringency on the back palate.
Finish: Long. Grape coats the mouth and stays. My favorite part of the pour. Begging you to go back for more.
Review of Copper & Kings Butchertown American Brandy
Nose: Much more of those familiar bourbon notes. Very heavy on the vanilla. Caramel. Brown sugar. Maple syrup. Pear. The grape isn’t as dominant compared to the Binny’s, but obviously still present.
Palate: Sweet on the front of the palate. Vanilla. Caramel. On the back palate, get hit with the grape and a bite that wasn’t in the Binny’s. Not over powering, but present. Nice mouth feel. Rounder, more complexity of flavor than the Binny’s.
Finish: Long. Warmer going down than the Binny’s. I would say the Binny’s sticks around longer with those grape notes that coat the mouth.
Nose: Red grape. Caramel. Vanilla.
Palate: Rich and Sweet. Caramel. Vanilla. Fresh oak more up front. Grape. Rounder on the palate than the Binny’s. Spice on the back palate. You could mistake this for a bourbon if you weren’t focusing on the palate.
Finish: Long, but not as rich as the Binny’s. Has the familiar whiskey bite. Grape and spice as the pour lingers in your mouth.
Copper & Kings American Brandy – Binny’s Private Barrel Selection = 87 – 89 (B+) = Great “Always want to have a bottle”
Copper & Kings American Brandy – Butchertown = 90 – 92 (A-) = Excellent “Want to buy a case”
Overall, two fantastic bottles! Although, the Butchertown was the winner in my book. The new American oak barrels really helped the Brandy take on more of those familiar bourbon notes that I love, while still keeping with the Brandy theme.
The Butchertown had the better nose and palate, but the Binny’s had a longer finish and a better mouthfeel. I actually preferred both pours with ice. However, even more so when the ice melted and the spirit returned back to room temperature. The notes on the nose and palate were slightly muted with the cold ice.
The most amazing thing with these high proof brandies was their transformation with water. Truly incredible.
Is American brandy the next big thing? Especially cask strength American brandy? I am not sure, but I think back to the times when bourbon in general was an afterthought to many until the recent boom. How and why did bourbon get so big? I assume that more and more people started trying bourbon, especially the higher quality offerings, and determined it was good stuff and wanted more. I feel like cask strength, American brandy is in a similar position, although even more of an unknown than bourbon ever was. Copper & Kings, and other brandy distilleries have a steep uphill battle to fight. I think the first step is getting whiskey drinkers to recognize what American brandy has to offer, and Copper & Kings has positioned themselves perfectly.
Trust me; go buy some Copper & Kings American brandy. You will not be disappointed.
Note: Days after drafting this article I came across David Driscoll’s blog over at K&L Wines that is titled, “Copper & Kings: The Next Big Thing Is Here”. It is a fantastic read with great insight on the distillery. My initial thought was to change the title of my article since the two were so similar, but I decided to keep it. It is interesting that an experienced Brandy drinker and spirits expert like Scott, and a whiskey enthusiast like myself, both came up with two similar independent conclusions that Copper & King’s and American Brandy is the next big thing! We might be onto something……….Tags: Bourbon, bourbon ranking, bourbon review, cleveland, copper & kings american brandy, copper & Kings butchertown review, Copper & Kings review, review, Whiskey blog, Whiskey review